Pica and Olfactory Craving of Pregnancy: How Deep Are the Secrets?


  • Nancy Rumsey Cooksey RN, BSN

    Corresponding author
    1. Nancy Cooksey is a certified childbirth educator and lactation consultant, and also works as a doula and new parent educator in St. Louis, Missouri. She is a volunteer instructor in the Perinatal Project of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri.
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ABSTRACT: The practice of pica during pregnancy is described in contemporary literature as the ingestion of nonfood substances and food staples in response to craving. A previously unnamed practice, olfactory craving of pregnancy, is the smelling by pregnant women of selected substances in response to craving, which may occur alone or with pica. Observations and descriptions of women's experiences of pica and olfactory craving were documented during individualized postpartum bedside instruction of 300 women at a midwestern hospital between 1992 and 1994. Most women were African American and low income. Eight themes about pica of pregnancy were keeping practices secret, singularity of the experience, obtaining the craved substance, fears for effects on the fetus, yielding or not yielding to cravings, use of substances as medication, pica and food intake, and sensory experiences other than taste. Three themes about olfactory craving of pregnancy were changes in sense of smell during pregnancy, types of craved substances and settings, and escalation in use during pregnancy. The clinical stages of pica and olfactory craving require further investigation, and perinatal caregivers have to seek and remove the barriers that cause pregnant women to isolate themselves with the practices that stem from these cravings.